When you see an official-looking email purporting to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) offering to give you money back, it is very tempting to respond immediately and without thinking. Very many of us do.
It is this almost automatic response which the people behind the scam rely upon. There are many ways in which you can be fooled into with parting with your personal information. As technology has become more and more sophisticated, it has become easier for criminals to create scams that look like genuine requests from government organisations.
In order to protect yourself it is important to recognise the difference between a scam and a genuine communication from HMRC.
Spotting a scam HMRC email
In July 2018, HMRC published guidance on how to recognize methods and styles of communications used which are designed to steal your personal information and much more if you respond.
In order to tempt you to part with your information, the scam relies upon you responding to an email about a tax rebate or refund. The email might invite you to visit a website or open an attachment. By doing so you could be allowing the scammers to gain access to your personal information. Such emails might invite you to part with your personal information including bank details in order to receive the fake rebate.
HMRC are very clear that they will never send notifications by email to anyone in respect of a tax rebate or refund. Examples of such emails are printed on their website.
Not everyone has email and so the scammers use a second line of attack. They can send text messages which invite you to proceed with an application for your refund. The message may contain a link which looks genuine. HMRC state that they will never ask for personal or financial information in a text message.
A bogus phone call is another favourite of the scammers.
In one example cited, HMRC will “inform” you that they are filing a lawsuit against you and you should press 1 to speak to a case worker and make a payment. In a number of instances, elderly and vulnerable people have been targeted as they may not understand that HMRC would never request payment by telephone or credit card in this way. If you have any relatives who’ve had such calls or may fall into this category, then there is advice available about what to do and who to contact from HMRC on their website.
With the extensive use of social media, it is all too easy for scammers to target potential victims. Recently a scam was identified on Twitter which offered a tax refund. Once again the scammers are relying upon the willingness of people to respond in exchange for a potential reward. HMRC state that they would never use social media to offer tax rebates or request personal, or financial information.
Other current scams
There are companies who distribute emails or texts advertising a tax rebate service. The idea is that the company will apply to HMRC for a tax rebate on your behalf usually they will charge a fee. These companies are not connected with HMRC in any way.
It is recommended that you read the small print and any disclaimers in such emails before considering using their service. The rule of thumb is, if in doubt, do not use the service. Instead you should contact HMRC directly if you are expecting a tax rebate and wish to have an update on the payment progress.
If you receive an email that is asking you for payment in order to release withheld goods such as lottery winnings or seized goods and packages held by Customs and Excise then these are undoubtedly scams. The scam is requesting your personal and financial information and even payment before the fictitious goods are released.
A scam has also been devised targeting lettings agents and landlords living abroad. If you fall within this category be aware that the scammers are requesting your personal information by asking you to complete a form called NRL1. The form is to be returned by email letter or fax. HMRC has highlighted this as yet another scam designed to harvest personal information.
If in doubt, check it out
If you receive any communication from HMRC and you are in doubt as to whether or not it is genuine than the best course of action is to contact them yourself and check it out. If you are certain that this is a scam because of the personal information being requested, then do not respond to it, but do report it to HMRC.For further advice on this or any other tax related issues contact us on 01235 768 561 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.